Stories including a capella

A Place That Loves Me Back

This past fall I had the opportunity to talk with a number of alumnae/i about my experience here at Vassar. I was asked why I chose the school, what activities I was involved in, my favorite place on campus, and a number of other questions that were meant to detail my personal experience over the past four years. Toward the end of the conversation, I was asked the inevitable: “So what is the campus climate really like right now?” It was about halfway through the fall semester, and at that point the situation wasn’t so great. Spirits were low, and students, faculty members, administrators and staff were all frustrated. Words like “transparency” and “economic downturn” had become part of everyday conversations. And so, I was honest with the alums: The campus attitude was fairly negative, but not at all uninspiring. I had come to the conclusion that students were taking action, demanding the best resolutions from their administrators for one reason: Vassar students love this place.

For me, drawing this conclusion was a revelation of sorts that I had yet to recognize for some reason. I knew that if anyone asked me about my Vassar experience my automatic response would be: “It has been incredible. I love this place!” And yet for the first time I was really able to approach these sentiments as an observer. I watched my fellow students spend time organizing protests, making signs, creating videos, signing petitions, participating in ergathons and writing letters to the Miscellany, showing their love for their academics, their professors and their staff members, all the while pushing those in charge to make the choices that were the best for the College.

These choices were anything but black and white, and I watched as peer institutions struggled through the same process. However, I couldn’t help but think that the situation at Vassar would always be better-our students just cared more. Despite the challenges that came the way of the College, students were still continuing with their academics and extracurriculars. There were three-, even four-hour Vassar Student Association meetings, with students using the opportunity to make their voices heard. No opinion was deemed unimportant and all were expressed in an effort to make the College a better place for its students.

Any Vassar student here both first and second semester will admit that the campus climate took a dramatic turn after Winter Break , and students seemed to be much more preoccupied in showing their love in more traditional ways. Plays were sold out, a capella concerts overwhelmingly attended, and the stands at men’s volleyball games (and even men and women’s lacrosse games) were overflowing. Students supported the events, their peers, their professors and their community love-everything from thesis presentations to readings by English professors and composition classes, to a local elementary school threatened by budget cuts.

By the end of spring semester, there is always the anticipation of what the next academic year will hold. From many of my fellow outgoing seniors I’ve heard concerns (and excitement) about changes that will come to Vassar next fall, and it’s been sad to watch their realization that they will no longer be a part of that immediate Vassar community. Yes, as the Alumnae and Alumni Association of Vassar College will remind you, the seniors are becoming part of that vast network of Vassar alumnae/i, an exclusive club of sorts that is still allowed to come back once a year to celebrate Founder’s Day. But the experience won’t be the same, and our love for Vassar will be taking another form. We’ll be celebrating it whenever we see our friends in New York City or Asheville, N.C. or maybe even Alaska, writing about it through e-mails and Facebook posts, and reading about it whenever we catch a classmate’s name in a newspaper article, or even a byline. And most important, our love will be forever extended to those current students at Vassar through our faith in knowing that those already here are showing the same love that has made the past four years nothing less than incredible.

The Eight Semester Experiment

I’m sitting at the long center table on the right side of the Library in the middle of finals week. Within the past two days here, I’ve witnessed stress and exhaustion-induced craziness ranging from Red Bull chugging contests to a capella concerts, with a little bit of studying squeezed in between. I could recite all of the selling points of this space that I’ve ingrained into my memory from years as a tour guide, such as the Gothic-style architecture, the Flemish tapestries or the stained glass portrait of Lady Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia. However, these facts definitely don’t convey to prospective students the atmosphere in the Library during finals, just like it’s impossible to truly know Vassar until you get here and experience it for yourself.

As the first person from my high school to attend Vassar in several years, I had no idea what to expect. I’d already mentally prepared myself for the frigid winters and had decided early that I would use my Southern charm to make new friends, since I knew absolutely nobody. Although I had told everyone in Nashville that I couldn’t wait for a “fresh start,” I worried, as move-in day crept closer, that I had gone a little too far with this decision.

Four years later, I couldn’t be happier. I honestly believe that my “why not?” attitude from freshman year has shaped my Vassar experience in the best ways possible. I remember impulsively deciding to run for freshman class secretary within the first weeks of school for the sole reason of meeting new people. When I won, I had unknowingly discovered an activity that would follow me throughout most of my Vassar career. The Vassar Student Association (VSA) was the ideal outlet for someone like me who wanted to be involved in every part of campus life. Whether it’s the Committee on College Life, Drug and Alcohol Education Committee or the Judicial Board, if you have an opinion here, there are plenty of outlets to make yourself heard.

I remember at the end of freshman year (clearly still riding high from first-year-of-college enthusiasm) Selina, Lucy and I decided to start a style magazine at Vassar in hopes of celebrating the cool, eclectic and creative students here. We clearly had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, having no magazine experience whatsoever and even less authority on “style.” I just remember standing in front of the VSA budget meeting, as a meek little freshmen, telling the Executive Board that we needed a budget of “approximately $30,000″ in order to start our magazine. We could hear the group laughing at us before we even shut the door to the meeting room. Despite minor setbacks such as this one, my “why not?” attitude from freshman year is still going strong.

After eight semesters here, I’ve found that this mentality is inherent in every Vassar student and has seeped into almost every aspect of life here. Whether it’s taking 100 level art history classes your senior year, exchanging your Thursday Dutch routine for Late Night at the Loeb or taking a day to check out the Dia Beacon, exploration and experimentation are defining factors at Vassar. Sometimes it takes stepping outside of the College’s gates to really appreciate the value of the Vassar experience.

In my TH, we have a poster hanging in our kitchen that says, “Nobody wishes they got more sleep in college.” While this may sound crazy-who at Vassar consistently feels well-rested, anyway?-it really does ring true. Looking back on my college experience, it’s the nighttime chats with friends, the hours-long procrastination sessions at the ACDC, and the random daily occurrences that shape a college experience. Although the classroom lectures and discussions are great for intellectual development, four years at Vassar constitutes much more than that. So even though everyone sitting in the Library with me has tons of work to do, I’m glad we are all able to take a little break and appreciate the Redbull contests and musical entertainment that I know we’ll miss very soon.

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